Dealing with challenging stakeholders in workshops
The role of Stakeholders
Generally speaking, a stakeholder is a person, group of persons or a whole organisation that has a vested interest in an outcome of some initiative, activities or changes. Stakeholders can be both internal and external to a certain organisation and information on that is usually gathered through the process of stakeholder analysis. Stakeholders can directly or indirectly impact or be impacted by the success of a project.
Usually, vested interest means that the stakeholder is influenced by the changes that are a result of initiatives, activities or changes. It is natural that each stakeholder advocates his own interests.
In this article we will discuss the relationship between the stakeholders and business analysts.
The role of Business Analysts
Job of a business analyst is to gather, to elicit, to document, to validate and to manage requirements in collaboration with the stakeholders. Business analyst is undoubtedly at the centre of attention during requirements engineering process. He needs to understand business change needs, assess the business impact of these changes, support and influence the communication and delivery of requirements with the relevant stakeholders. As such, business analyst must necessarily possess great interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills and strong self-confidence, to be at the best of his capabilities particularly when dealing with challenging stakeholders in workshops.
One of the main “tools” used by business analyst for eliciting requirements are the workshops. Workshop is a structured joint meeting usually conducted or led by a business analyst as a skilful facilitator, with the participation of appropriate stakeholders and other supporting roles. Requirements workshops have the specific purpose of discussing the requirements in terms of collecting and scoping them, gathering, eliciting, defining, prioritising or finalising requirements for a concrete implementation. Requirements workshops typically last between one and a few days, depending on the scope. Business analyst as a “workshop session manager” needs to facilitate reaching the common agreement between the stakeholders at the workshop and appropriately follow-up on it.
What is the challenge?
During a workshop, communication or relationship between a business analyst and the stakeholders can transform from harmony into a number of disagreements, arguments and conflicts. Difficult stakeholder can be characterised as one who is hard to reach an agreement or compromise with, is not collaborative and has unrealistic or unreasonable expectations.
Here are mentioned some of the challenging types of stakeholders that can be present in a workshop:
“pushy” stakeholder with the loudest voice in the room, who monopolises discussion and imposes his opinion as the only right way to proceed with. He has the need to “prove” his power and only requests to be listened but never listens
the one who finds it difficult to concur with anything that is said or decided
the one who does not want to commit to any proposal, task or a decision
the one who only communicates completely unrelated topics or concerns
introverted one who avoids any interaction and feedback
the late one; to whom running late for the workshop is a rule and not an exception, or the one who is a regular “no-show” person
“disruptor” and “distractor”; participant having “side meetings” along with the workshop, distracting the workshop flow.
Disruptive stakeholder sees the workshop environment as inconvenient for him, thus, or he refuses to contribute anything unless specifically called on, or constantly expresses complaints and questions why he is invited and needed in the workshop. They can manifest very moody and emotional behaviour throughout the workshop session which amplifies the whole impact.
How to make sure that requirements workshop runs smoothly
To enable that requirements workshop runs as smooth as possible, different approaches can be taken by the business analyst. Since the business analyst acts as a liaison among multiple groups, facilitating the sharing of information and ideas is of crucial importance. Business analyst needs to be cautious about scope creep that can occur during the workshop. Adding the scope can arise through the workshop and there is where good assessment and resolution skills of the business analyst come to shine. In any workshop, many different questions open up, various answers and opinions are expressed or imposed, thus it is vital for the business analyst to not allow the workshop going “off the rails”.
Business analyst needs to assess when he should interfere in a conflict and needs to be able to react appropriately at a right point. This is obviously not an easy task to do and complexity of such events shows how valuable is the role of the business analyst in the workshops. In some way, he acts as a “detective” and an “attorney” of the workshop. There can happen that a certain stakeholder will try to establish his supremacy which can lead to conflicts in the workshop, hence, clearly defined role and domain of each stakeholder is necessary. Business analyst needs to be flexible and not take the workshop discussion and conclusions always for granted. The workshop is usually an iterative process and after conducting one, sometimes several iterations are necessary to reach a consensus, or to refine the requirement solution.
Here are some pointers on how to make the workshop run more “smoothly”:
Participants - ensure that the right stakeholders, decision makers and individuals who can actively contribute to the workshop objectives are invited and actively participate in the workshop
Keep an eye on the agenda – the agenda needs to be set-up, but flexibility in the workshop is also needed so that valuable information is not lost. There need to be set certain ground rules for the workshop as well as the alignment on how and when to use them.
Documentation – workshop meeting notes (such as: decisions, commitments, major discussion or action points) shall be properly recorded in an appropriate format on all topics discussed and decided upon in the meeting. They need to be distributed to all participants after the workshop session.
Choose your battles wisely - in some cases, confrontation with a difficult stakeholder can be beneficial and assist in resolving issues for good. In other instances, that is not necessary and can do harm to future relations with the stakeholder.
Tailor your communication - choose having a productive dialogue so that you get most of the information needed for the meaningful decision wrap-up.
Don´t be so serious – use humour to lighten up the atmosphere and to remove negative emotions.
Having all of this in mind, it is evident that business analyst needs to have great interpersonal skills, foster good relationships with stakeholders and be flexible in his approach so that requirements workshop induces the best possible results. Business analyst needs to know to handle “easy” as much as “difficult” types of stakeholders and stay comfortable while dealing with highly unpleasant situations and discussions that often occur in the workshops.